Train, or miss the boat

Sandy MacLeod

Shape up: Sandy MacLeod of the Toronto Star talks colleagues through digital development at the 2010 PANPA Future Forum

It’s professional development training.

To receive the right to hang up your shingle claiming you are a lawyer, accountant or real estate agent (yep, even real estate!), you must commit to a minimum number of hours dedicated to keeping your professional knowledge current.

Lawyers must undergo 10 hours a year, accountants must do 120 hours every three years with a minimum of 20 hours annually, and real estate agents need to prove they have 12 “points” a year – the time each point takes to earn depends on the quality of the training.

Sure, they can resist, go sullenly and refuse to learn anything.

Good operators embrace it, using the obligation as an excuse to attend conferences, get up to speed on new legislation or technology, take a step outside their day-to-day work and learn something that will expand their knowledge and help them take a fresh approach.

Why don’t journalists have this requirement?

Some of the reasoning is historical.

It’s only in the past 20 years that we’ve become a “quasi-profession”, with people now going for a university degree as a stepping stone to enter our ranks.

Most of us are still products of cadetships and on-the-job training from the days when the industry was seen as proudly blue collar.

And many of us still have the scars of the so-called “training” that did exist, so why on earth would we want to do more?

Traditionally, we have relied on our union to negotiate our training.

Traditionally, we have expected training to be something that management offers us, or that we are selected for.

Traditionally, we have felt that if the company or industry is really going in that direction, they can put their hands in their pockets and get us sorted.

But this approach hardly serves us in an era of constantly changing technology, new methods of storytelling and hungry new audiences that we cannot serve because we can’t move fast enough.

At a time when society’s consumption of media has never been higher, it is enormously sad, on so many levels, that Fairfax is outsourcing 82 sub-editor and designer roles.

I understand that in a modern newsroom, there is a need to do things differently. I understand that outsourcing is easier to manage than leading cultural change.

But at a time when newsroom roles are being redefined, when we are struggling to get the tone right across mobile, iPad, online, video and print; and when “commissioning once but publishing many” is the mantra, Fairfax’s message to longstanding journalists is “there’s nothing here for you”.

And whose fault is that?

If every journalist was required to undertake say 16 hours of professional development training in order to carry a media pass, wouldn’t all publishers be in a better position to handle the transformation of our businesses?

Wouldn’t we now have a vast resource of multi-talented journalists who are savvy in new-media thinking as we embark boldly into future ventures?

Who would pay for the training?

Well, lawyers, accountants and real estate agents mix it up between employer-funded and self-funded training.

Many fast track their careers by paying for their own training and claiming it back on tax in the hope of a quicker promotion or new role.

Others choose not to do it at all, or drag their feet. In worst-case scenarios, their right to practice is removed from them, or they are the first on the chopping block when the restructure comes.

In modern business, individuals are taking responsibility for their own training and the value they bring to their employer.

Journalists need to honestly reassess their own position in a fast-changing industry.

Technology is giving us incredibly exciting new ways to tell stories and capture new audiences.

Successful journalists are those with talent not just in the art of journalism but in the art of producing content for multiple platforms, thus maximising their audience.

A colleague who has been on a subs’ desk needs to adjust to the fact that editorial production now includes HTML5, video-editing on programs such as Final Cut Pro and goodness knows what else today and into the future.

These skills now complement the art forms of journalism, such as injecting tonality, wit and wisdom into our work. A combination of the skills is now an essential marriage.

If you believe the capacity to file tight intros, write good headlines and know an editorial system inside out is sufficient, then sadly you are fooling yourself about what lies ahead.

It is time to learn from lawyers and other professions.

It is time to invest in yourself and create a new stage in your career in this fast-evolving world.

But if you don’t, good luck anyway.

Kylie Davis is the national real estate editor at News Limited and former owner, publisher and “entreprenette” at The Village Voice newspapers

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